Sula, Toni Morrison & Rosso Arcaico, Occhipinti
by Kim Kent
A year ago
Reading Toni Morrison’s second novel, Sula (originally published in 1973), is like sinking into fragrant earth. It’s palpable with the “weight of blossomed things”: gardenias, violets, overripe green things and moves with the force of “steel shavings drawn to a spacious, magnetic center.” Sula is a craft study in what a novel can do. Though less than two hundred pages, Sula spans from 1919 to 1965—resulting in a story that feels both vastly sweeping and highly distilled. Morrison’s voice lulls and bites. She maintains an omniscient distance even as she simultaneously slips into an almost atomic intimacy: there is a description of a single blade of frozen grass I will think about for a long, long time. Perhaps it’s her weaving together of contradictory elements that makes this book feel so familiar. Or perhaps it feels familiar because, as Morrison wrote in an essay titled “Unspeakable Things Unspoken”(1988), she was “translating the anonymous into the specific, a ‘place’ into a ‘neighborhood,’ and letting a stranger in through whose eyes it can be viewed.” She created the door. The “seductive safe harbor” from which the outside reader—I—approached softly, unaware even of my own understanding, or reliance upon, such a presentation.
What I love about reading fiction is that I bring myself, all the conscious and unconscious factors of my making, to the act of reading and (hopefully) come out the other side altered. In the way I think. In the way I investigate my experience as inseparable from a larger experience. And even sometimes, in a way that’s physical—an altered pattern of breath, an ache, “a bright space” opened in my head.
Andrea Occhipinti makes wine in Lazio, Italy where he grows indigenous grape varietals on the volcanic slopes of Lake Bolsena, about 1,500 feet above sea level. A fifty-fifty blend of two indigenous grapes—Aleatica and Grechetto Rosso—grown on volcanic soil, hand-harvested, and fermented in terracotta amphora, Rosso Arcaico is very much a wine of that place. It translates the anonymous into the specific. Smelling and tasting of how Morrison’s description of her novel’s place—the Bottom—wafted fromt he page. Blossomed things. Green things. Ripe things. And a palpable sense of earth. Dry and minerally. It’s a bottle that’s easy to drink: tasty and perhaps falsely familiar feeling too. Complex and yet, at times, hard to distinguish one flavor from another—“no bottom, no top,” like a hard to pin down feeling.
Toni Morrison (1931-2019) has written many novels and several books of non-fiction and was awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1993. The University of Michigan has a wonderful free online resource of many of her speeches and essays. I highly recommend reading “Unspeakable Things Unspoken,” after reading Sula, which not only discusses the opening of Sula specifically, but how the novel relates to the broader issues of the Eurocentric canon, gender, race, politics and Art.
Andrea Occhipinti farms about four hectares of vineyard near Gradoli, an area he fell in love with as a student. He is dedicated to preserving the local varietals, Aleatica and Grechetto, and produces surprising, experimental wines—one of the first winemakers to make a dry version of Aleatica—that are complex and drinkable.